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Legislative notebook: Procedural error takes down gun in lots bill amendment

Tom Humphrey, The Knoxville News-Sentinel • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:00 PM

NASHVILLE (MCT) – The House rejected Thursday an attempt to prohibit companies from firing employees who hold a handgun carry permit for keeping a gun in a car after House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick contended the proposal was not properly filed.

The move came when McCormick's bill to make a minor change in the "guns in parking lots law" enacted last year came to the House floor. Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, filed a proposed amendment – backed by the Tennessee Firearms Association – that substantially broadened the Senate-approved bill (SB1701).

McCormick, R-Chattanooga, wanted only to change a provision of current law that says a carry permit holder cannot be criminally prosecuted for having a gun in his or her "privately owned vehicle," even if on property where guns are prohibited.

The wording means that if the carry permit holder is driving a rental car or someone else's car – that of a relative or friend, for example – the protection would not apply. McCormick's bill changes the wording to cover any vehicle in the permit holder's legal possession.

Pody sought to put a separate bill he has filed, HB1667, onto McCormick's bill as an amendment. His proposals says a person cannot be fired for any legal possession of any item kept in a vehicle.

John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association, urged support of Pody's move in an email sent to representatives before the vote. He said Pody's measure and other strong pro-gun bills "are trapped by leadership in the committee system with no plans to bring them to the floor so they can be considered by all elected House members."

When Pody's amendment came up, McCormick – with backing from House Chief Clerk Joe McCord – said the amendment was "outside the caption" of his bill. The state constitution requires that the "caption" required for each bill filed include a short description of its content. If a topic is not included, it can be declared in violation of the state constitution.

Pody disagreed, but McCormick moved to table, or kill, his amendment "regardless of whether its a good idea or not" because of the caption problem. Forty-five representatives voted with McCormick to kill the bill, 29 voted to support it and 25 did not vote one way or the other.

With Pody's amendment thus rejected, the original bill itself was approved 83-6. It now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam for his signature.

"It's probably not the perfect bill," said McCormick, "but it does move the ball down the field a little bit."

He said there has been no known case of an employee being fired for having a gun in his or her car and, if that happens, the Legislature can consider further action later.

Trial bills: The Senate unanimously approved and sent to the House Thursday two bills inspired by the trial of those convicted in the torture-murder of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom in Knoxville.

One bill (SB1796) revises the rules on a judge serving as a "13th juror. The other (SB1797) puts new restrictions on claims made about the victim of a crime being introduced into evidence at a trial. Sponsor Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, the law on both matters, as it stands now, was abused during the Christian-Newsom trials to prolong proceeding unnecessarily and bring false claims into the case.

"I am appalled at what these victims and their families endured during these trials. This legislation aims to make sure this never happens again."

The parents of Christian and Newsom appeared at a Senate committee hearing to support the bills and are expected to return for House committee hearings as well soon.

Blackberry Farms liquor: The Blackberry Farms resort in Blount County will get to keep its liquor-by-the-drink license even though it no longer has a tennis court under a bill sent to the governor on Thursday.

The bill by Rep. Art Swann and Sen. Doug Overbey, both Maryville Republicans, follows recent renovations that will eliminate the tennis court at Blackberry Farms. When a bill was originally enacted to give the resort a special liquor-by-the-drink license, Swann explained, it was written to require various amenities at a facility to meet qualifying criteria – one of them being a tennis court.

Thus, with the renovation, Blackberry Farms stood to lose its license. The bill (SB1648) deletes the tennis court requirement and keeps the selling of liquor legal at the facility.

It was approved 32-0 by the Senate earlier this month and on a 79-8 vote in the House Thursday.

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